The UK is already looking to net zero emissions of greenhouse gasses by 2050, an ambitious undertaking requiring all manner of clean energy sources that have no harmful effect to the atmosphere and environment. Unknown to many, the UK has widespread untapped energy source all over in former coal mines.
Sitting on geothermal gold
Studies indicate that over 9 million buildings ranging from businesses to homes in the UK, particularly in large cities beyond London, are spread atop inactive coalfields. At the peak of coal mining the industry employed over 1.25 million individuals and fuelled the UK economy for more than a hundred years; the last of the infamous deep mines ended its operations back in 2015.
All the diverse networks of coal mines hold approximately two billion cubic metres of critical water resource, which surrounding rocks have been heating up to 16 degrees Celsius. As a result, the hot minewater has become a major problem and costs about £18 million to manage effectively through the Coal Authority to make sure that its pollutants and huge iron components do not threaten rivers and clean drinking water.
Zero carbon potential contributions
According to the Coal Authority, the potential of minewater is so high that it is a real potential provider of clean energy. It can be used in many areas from new housing, leisure programs to horticulture. Research by the Authority indicates that heating alone accounts for 32% of emissions in the UK and 45% of energy used in the region.
According to minewater experts, only half of energy supply in the UK is decarbonised with the country still relying heavily on natural gas to meet its heating needs, which is around 70%. As such, closed mines offer a huge opportunity to tap the large scale water resource for the decarbonisation of heat.
Coal Authority believe from its preliminary data the current geothermal potential in coal mines could heat up over 180 million households and has been mapping this resource around Britain.
Minewater is actually being used by some companies already. Lanchester Wines is a great example, which spent over a quarter of a million pounds in drillings that didn’t yield any of the critical geothermal resource. However, the company now operates the largest commercial heating scheme run on minewater. Millions of wine bottles are kept temperate while the heat also ensures a distribution depot close by functions optimally.
The Gateshead establishment operates a 2.4 megawatts system giving out 6 kilowatts of heat for every one kilowatt of used electricity. The success of the installation has been recognised after the renewable heat government incentive program paid the company £117,000.
Minewater heat research
To effectively adopt minewater across the UK, British Geological Survey has been undertaking research in a previous industrial area in Glasgow. Minewater adoption faces huge challenges, such as scaling up utilisation of the resource, development and adoption costs, finding potentially perfect locations for drilling and convincing communities to accept heating systems they might have little control over.
Durham county council is already inviting tenders across the board to set up a swimming pool leisure centre heated with minewater. South Wales’ Bridgend local authority has also been busy with scientists developing a network of minewater heating for use locally.
While coal was used in the carbonisation of the UK economy, coal mines could now be the new way of decarbonising it.